Cumbria's crime commissioner says it is vital big city drug gangs don't get a foothold in the county.

Peter McCall was speaking in the wake of startling statistics emerging from detectives about the scale of serious and organised crime.

The county force believes there are 54 known gangs in Cumbria.

Nineteen of these are currently classed as active, with others "disrupted" or lying low to avoid capture.

Drug deaths, physical abuse, rises in thefts and exploitation of the vulnerable are all being linked to the groups, which are often centred on drugs being supplied from big urban areas.

Mr McCall - who oversees county crimefighting - said: "It's something we've been aware of for some time.

"My concern is that, while these are fairly scary statistics - and the drug issue in the county is nowhere near as bad it is in the metropolitan areas - it is increasing.

"There is no question about that.

"The danger is that the drug business is like any other. It is about demand and supply."

Suppliers in Manchester and Merseyside were fighting for a slice of the market in those cities, he said.

"The danger is they see somewhere like Cumbria as a market to be filled," added Mr McCall.

"My concern is we don't allow them to take that real foothold in the county.

"It's all about making sure our intelligence is good and we know what's going on."

Police have revealed the eye-opening way in which gangs operate, running drug delivery services in much the same way someone might order takeaway food.

And in probably the most shocking example of the dangers they can bring, detectives say an 11-year-old was used to courier wraps of heroin round the streets of Carlisle.

This was because an adult - part of the supply chain - was under "pressure to get orders out".

Mr McCall said he had been present on a raid in Barrow this week, adding: "There is a lot of really proactive work going on.

"We've got to take a very strong and proactive role on this to make sure they don't get that foothold."

He said his key message for the public was: "Information is key".

"Very often the public will say I've reported someone selling drugs and nothing is happening," he added.

"But something is happening about it.

"If you don't see something happening straight away, that information builds up a picture so the police can focus their resources.

"Because it is the more senior players in this business we need to catch.

"It is a real concern. My concern is while it is not a massive problem yet, I don't want it to become that."

The link between organised Manchester and Merseyside gangs and the trafficking of drugs into Cumbria has long been known.

But senior detectives say mobs from London and Birmingham are now aiming to get in on the act - each keen to take a slice of this part of the criminal underworld.

However, there is a belief among police that the public are not aware of the scale of the problem.

Mr McCall added: "I think you could apply that to most of the areas of serious crime.

"Because Cumbria is such a safe county, most of us won't see these things.

"Most of us won't see drug dealing and domestic violence and child sexual exploitation.

"And in may ways I'm pleased that we don't see it. I want to keep it that way. But it does exist.

"It's important when people do have evidence they do report it.

"We've all got a part to play. It's not just down to the police, it's down to us all."

How do the gangs operate?

Moving into a different area, suppliers from big cities introduce a phone number to sell drugs such as crack and heroin directly at street level.

This phone line, say police, represents a supplier's "brand".

It does not change very often and is usually run from the supplier's home city.

Drug users ring the number to place orders and local street dealers are then dispatched to make deliveries.

The gangs often locate enforcers within the homes of the local street dealers to control the supply. This is known as cuckooing.

By operating this way the supplier extends their network - but keeps themselves distant from the supply.

Phone lines are unregistered and difficult to link to an individual, add police.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dean Holden - the man leading the county's detectives - spoke about the threat.

He last week urged the public to contact officers with any information that could help them as they aimed to smash the organised gangs.

"Rather than just getting the local street dealers, we have to go beyond that," he said.

"We want to target the individuals pulling the strings."

The drugs market was said to be "extremely lucrative", with massive profits to be made.

Police chiefs have pointed out how, over the last year, they had successfully disrupted 19 organised crime gangs.

They said there was no evidence of guns being used in Cumbria to back up the criminal operations.

Cannabis is the most confiscated drug in Cumbria, government figures show.

The class B drug was seized 469 times by police in the county between April 2016 and March last year.

Cocaine had the second highest number of confiscations at 154, while heroin was recorded as the third most seized drug with 91.

The figures, published by the Home Office, reveal they were among 298 class A substances taken by police; 523 were class B and 58 class C drugs.

A further 47 were recorded as unknown - with officers unable to determine exactly what the substance was.

The products were all destroyed when they were no longer required as evidence in ongoing investigations.

Class A drugs are those listed by the government as being the most addictive or harmful to users.

They include heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and morphine.

Class B includes cannabis, amphetamines, ketamine and barbituates.

Class C includes some prescription medicine which is used illicitly.

It can include 'benzos' like diazepam or Xanax.

It is illegal to possess, use or give away controlled drugs.

The charity Crimestoppers launched a campaign earlier this year across Cumbria to highlight the pain and suffering big city criminals are inflicting on children and vulnerable people.

It focused on the expansion of drug networks to rural areas, bringing with it violence, exploitation and abuse.

The charity said many of those targeted had been forced to carry out crime by threats, grooming and extortion.

A social media campaign was launched by the charity to raise awareness of the issue.

This has been supported by both the West Cumbria and South Lakes and Barrow Community Safety Partnerships - alliances of organisations.

Crimestoppers said it had 240 pieces of information given to it anonymously from the public in Cumbria over six months on drug trafficking and supply.

This resulted in significant arrests and seizures by Cumbria Police, it added.

Anyone with information can contact Criimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or can send an untraceable online form at

Call police on 101.